Are Bipolar Disorder and Binge Drinking Related?

Are Bipolar Disorder and Binge Drinking Related?

Bipolar Disorder and Binge Drinking are both difficult and complex issues that affect a multitude of people across the world today. Because it’s an issue that affects so many people, there is an incredible amount of information on the internet about it. Knowing where to start when you’re looking for help for either yourself or a loved one can be difficult, that’s why we’ve compiled information from several sources to help you start today in overcoming binge drinking.

The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Binge Drinking

Bipolar disorder and AUD frequently occur together, with studies estimating that 40% to 70% of individuals with bipolar disorder will develop an alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives. The exact reasons for this connection are complex and multifaceted, but several factors contribute to the high comorbidity rate.

Genetic Factors

Genetics play a significant role in both bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction. Individuals with a family history of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Similarly, there is a genetic component associated with alcohol use disorder, with heritability estimated at around 60% in families. Genetic differences may impact the brain's reward system, making individuals with bipolar disorder more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction.

Mood Disorders

Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience intense mood swings and may struggle with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Alcohol can be used as a coping mechanism to alleviate emotional discomfort, leading to self-medication and an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. The central amygdala, the brain region responsible for stress and anxiety responses, is affected by both stress and alcohol-related stimuli, potentially contributing to the link between mood disorders and alcohol addiction.

Behavioral Impulsivity

Manic episodes in bipolar disorder are characterized by impulsivity, increased energy, and engaging in risky behaviors. Alcohol consumption can intensify these symptoms, leading to excessive drinking and a higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. Conversely, individuals with bipolar disorder may turn to alcohol to cope with depressive episodes and alleviate feelings of sadness and low mood. This bidirectional relationship between bipolar disorder and alcohol can create a harmful cycle of self-medication and exacerbation of symptoms.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Before delving into the connection between bipolar disorder and alcohol, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of bipolar disorder itself. Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition that affects approximately 2.6% of people in the United States. It is characterized by distinct periods of mania, hypomania, and depression.

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is the most severe form of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by at least one manic episode that lasts for at least one week or requires hospitalization. Manic episodes are characterized by a heightened mood, increased energy, racing thoughts, and impulsive behavior. Individuals with bipolar I disorder may also experience depressive episodes, which can be severe and long-lasting.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by recurrent depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania, characterized by elevated mood and increased energy. Individuals with bipolar II disorder do not experience full-blown manic episodes but may still struggle with significant mood fluctuations and impaired functioning.

Other Types of Bipolar Disorder

In addition to bipolar I and II disorders, there are other less common types of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder characterized by frequent mood swings between hypomania and depressive symptoms. Rapid cycling bipolar disorder involves experiencing four or more mood episodes within a year, with rapid shifts between mania, hypomania, and depression.

Symptoms of Binge Drinking and AUD

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic condition characterized by an inability to control alcohol consumption despite negative consequences. To diagnose AUD, a person must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms within a 12-month period:

  1. Cravings or intense urges to drink.
  2. Drinking larger amounts of alcohol or drinking for longer periods than intended.
  3. Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking.
  4. Continued drinking despite negative consequences in various areas of life.
  5. Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous.
  6. Continued drinking despite the presence of mental or physical health problems exacerbated by alcohol.
  7. Tolerance to alcohol, requiring increased amounts to achieve the desired effect.
  8. Withdrawal symptoms when alcohol intake is reduced or stopped.

Individuals with bipolar disorder and AUD may experience worsened symptoms of both conditions. Alcohol can amplify the impulsivity associated with manic episodes and exacerbate depressive symptoms. Furthermore, alcohol use can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and behaviors in individuals with bipolar disorder.


The Impact of Alcohol on Bipolar Disorder Treatment

When someone has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to consider the impact of alcohol on their treatment plan. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of medication prescribed for bipolar disorder and may worsen symptoms or trigger mood episodes. Mixing alcohol with bipolar medications can lead to drowsiness, increased drug toxicity, memory problems, increased depression, heart issues, upset stomach, liver damage, difficulty breathing, and an increased risk of overdose.

In addition to the potential negative interactions with medication, alcohol can destabilize mood, making it more challenging to manage bipolar symptoms effectively. It is generally recommended for individuals with bipolar disorder to avoid alcohol consumption to minimize the risk of mood destabilization and treatment complications.

Treating Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

When addressing the co-occurrence of bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, a comprehensive treatment approach is essential. Treatment should focus on managing bipolar symptoms, addressing underlying triggers for alcohol use, and providing support for long-term recovery.


Medication is a crucial component of bipolar disorder treatment and may be prescribed to stabilize mood and reduce symptoms. It is important for individuals with bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder to discuss their medication regimen with a healthcare professional and adhere to the prescribed dosage. Alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness of bipolar medications and may increase the risk of adverse side effects.


Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can be beneficial for individuals with bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder. These therapeutic approaches help individuals develop coping mechanisms, manage mood swings, and address the underlying triggers for alcohol use.

Support Groups

Engaging in support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or organizations specifically tailored to individuals with bipolar disorder, can provide valuable peer support and a sense of community. Sharing experiences, challenges, and successes with others who have similar struggles can be comforting and empowering.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment programs specialize in addressing co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. These programs offer integrated treatment approaches that simultaneously address bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder. Dual diagnosis treatment typically includes a combination of medication, therapy, support groups, and education about managing both conditions.

Seeking Help for Bipolar Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder, it is crucial to seek professional help. A healthcare provider or mental health professional can provide a comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis, and develop an individualized treatment plan. Remember, recovery is possible, and with the right support, individuals can manage their bipolar disorder and achieve sobriety.

It is important to reach out to helplines, support groups, and treatment centers that specialize in dual diagnosis to access the most appropriate resources and support. With proper treatment, individuals can regain control of their lives and experience improved mental health and well-being.


Bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder often co-occur, resulting in a complex and challenging combination of conditions. The connection between the two is influenced by genetic factors, mood disorders, and behavioral impulsivity. Understanding the relationship between bipolar disorder and alcohol is crucial for effective treatment and support.

By seeking professional help, individuals can access appropriate resources and develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses both bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder. Medication, psychotherapy, and support groups are essential components of treatment. With the right support, individuals can manage their bipolar disorder and achieve sobriety, leading to improved overall well-being and quality of life. Remember, recovery is possible, and you don't have to face these challenges alone. Seek help and take the first step towards a healthier, happier future.


Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder Information.

NIAAA: Understanding AUD

Alcohol Rehab Guide: Alcohol and Bipolar

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